Cricket: Caddick the slow burner

Stephen Brenkley says England are at last capitalising on a prime asset; `Edgbaston was the first time I felt comfortable and confident at the same time'
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The Independent Online
SOME ENGLAND fast bowlers might have received more flak than Andrew Caddick but they were probably under sustained anti-aircraft fire at the time. Caddick has been castigated mercilessly, his purported crimes running the gamut of being unable to bowl a hoop downhill, possessing a heart the size of a pea and having a troublesome personality.

The derision reached its zenith in Trinidad early last year when England lost a match they should have won and their main strike bowler, the tall man from Somerset, wretchedly failed to take a wicket. It is certain that he bowled badly, it is not so sure that he was guilty of anything else. The West Indies tour did not pick up for him much afterwards. There were wickets, seven of them in the next match, but the damage had been done. There were more guts, it was hinted, in an amoeba.

These are, of course, ridiculous charges to level at a man who has now taken five wickets in a Test innings six times, who has pace, can extract bounce and sharp movement and has considerable claims to being the best bowler in England. It is not a gutless man who bowls for his county through two half seasons with shin splints which might have ended his career. It is not a small-hearted bowler who summer after summer delivers over after over for his county whether he is on international duty in between or not. Last year Caddick bowled nearly 700 overs for Somerset, in 1997 it was 506 (plus 178 for England), in 1996 it was 524.

"That's my job, they're my colleagues, I wouldn't have it any other way," he said in Taunton on Friday. "I'm a fast bowler. I want to play for England, I want to play for Somerset." His colleagues must wish that all personalities could be so troublesome. Still, there is still the small matter of Trinidad to explain.

"The problem was a technical fault," he said, echoing the beliefs of other sound, balanced judges. "It had first cropped up late in the English season before and was to do with my arms not being right in the gather as I prepared to deliver the ball. It got worse and it was only when I got back to England that I was able to rectify it. Peter Wishart here at Somerset noticed something, put that right, helped me to get bowling near to the stumps and it's been fine since."

So fine indeed that in 1998 he took 105 Championship wickets at 19.82. He thought he was bowling better than at any time in his career, an opinion with which batsmen agreed. It was not enough to get him on the tour to Australia and, while England did not lose the Ashes because of his absence, it seemed a bizarre omission. The feeling was hard to shake off that he was left out on grounds that he was Old Man Trouble, not on form.

"I was gutted," he said, which is much different from being gutless. "I thought I'd done enough. I knew when we got back from the West Indies that I'd be out. I hadn't done it, but I'd put that right." At this point he might have suspected that either his face did not fit or he had put somebody's nose out of joint. Caddick did not, he merely resolved to bowl well again this summer.

The result was a recall to England colours for the First Test. He did not bowl as he ought to have done in the first innings ("a foot too short probably," he said) and one could feel the barrels being loaded. But in the second he judged his bowling on a bad pitch precisely, controlling the length and making judicious use of the off-cutter which has now become an instrumental part of his wicket-taking.

It might have been entirely coincidental that both Caddick and another supposedly quirky personality, Phil Tufnell (though that one is self-confessed), were picked again at the same time as Nasser Hussain was appointed as captain. In the manifesto he issued on his first day in the job, Hussain had said all were welcome in his side if they were good enough.

Caddick does not know how or why he was picked - other than his form and ability demanded it - but he is delighted at Hussain's captaincy. "I've played more than 20 Tests but that was the first time somehow that I felt comfortable and confident at the same time. I was more relaxed than I have ever been playing for England. I want to play 80 Test matches." (He has 22 caps at the age of 31).

He claims to be insensitive to the criticism he has endured. Another day, another over is the impression he gives. "I don't show my emotions too much because at the end of the day it is just a game of cricket and no more. I want to win badly for my country and my county but when it's over it's over."

But he is frustrated at being misunderstood. He has probably said some things he regrets and his choice of phrase can be unfortunate sometimes. His bowling might not always have held up under the weight of expectation but for all the failures there are successes.

Caddick failed in Trinidad yet at The Oval a few months earlier he had kept his nerve splendidly to bowl out Australia in a tingling finished. He got Steve Waugh twice in the match, five times in the series. "Steve's my bunny," he said and raised his eyebrows in case anybody thought he lacked a sense of humour (Waugh must have thought it a joke when he did not go to Australia).

"Perception is a wonderful thing," Caddick said. Whatever you perceive about his personality the reality is that he is a wonderful bowler.